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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | City plans six more red-light cameras despite lawsuit

BRADENTON — Despite a pending lawsuit, more red light cameras are expected to be installed at city intersections, according to Bradenton officials.

So far, three cameras are installed at two city intersections. This month a fourth camera will be installed for eastbound traffic at the intersection of 15th Street West and Manatee Avenue West, bringing the number of intersections covered by the cameras to three, said Bradenton Police Traffic Sgt. Brian Thiers.

“It makes people way more aware of their surroundings in and around the intersection,” he said.

Between the three cameras already in place, a vehicle runs a red light an average of about once an hour, he said.

The first traffic camera was installed Aug. 9 and as of Wednesday afternoon, 807 citations had been sent to car owners captured running a red light at First Street and Manatee Avenue West in downtown Bradenton.

A citation was sent to Jamie S. Rosenberg after a Lexus SUV registered to him went through a red light while heading west on Manatee Avenue West on the morning of Nov. 10. The light was red for .60 seconds before the SUV proceeded through, according to records.

Rosenberg, of Bradenton, who is a prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office, is listed as suing the city, according to a complaint filed in court this week. The suit claims the cameras are unconstitutional.

Rosenberg, when reached for comment Friday, said the lawsuit was news to him.

“I never had any communication or correspondence with the attorney,” said Rosenberg. “I’m suing the city of Bradenton, and I didn’t even know about it.”

Rosenberg said he went online to an attorney’s Web site and submitted his ticket information in hopes of getting his fine back if the cameras are ruled unconstitutional. He said he didn’t realize that meant he would be initiating the lawsuit.

“I intend to withdraw my name from the lawsuit on Monday,” he said.

The suit is based on the premise that the fees are levied based on city ordinance rather than state law, and the cameras assume the vehicle owner is driving at the time of the violation.

“The municipalities are trying to usurp (state) power by making this a code violation,” said Jason Weisser, Rosenberg’s West Palm Beach-based attorney, who has 18 other similar suits filed in other Florida municipalities dealing with red light cameras.

Weisser, who was away from his office Friday, said he not sure about the number of people who petitioned to become a part of the class action lawsuit. In order for the lawsuit to move forward, there has to be violator pursing it in court.

Rosenberg paid the $125 ticket, according to records. If the citation is not paid, the fee increases by $25 and it’s possible the vehicle owner could be reported to a credit agency. Out of the $125, $92.50 goes to the city.

As of Wednesday, the city has potentially made nearly $75,000 through the civil fees since the first camera was set up.

State legislators have filed bills for 2010 to create a law that would make clear rules on statewide enforcement of red light cameras at intersections. If the bill is passed, it would also create more revenue for the state. According to the bill, violators would be fined $150. Of that amount, $75 would go to the municipality, $55 would go the state’s general fund and $20 would go to the Department of Health.

Rosenberg, like all others cited, has the chance to appeal the citation in a hearing. As of this week, four people are scheduled for a hearing.

However, since August no one has shown up, said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski.

“We put the video up and everyone is sitting there watching it. They see the person running the red light and ask, ‘What’s your defense?’” he said.

Weisser has argued people do not have the normal defenses they would have in court when they are pulled over by a police officer. For example, the driver may be responding to an emergency.

Instead, they have to prove they are innocent, Weisser said.

Weisser hopes to win the lawsuit and have the cities return the fines to the vehicle owners, he said.

Officers review each citation before they are sent to vehicle owners. If cars are stopped in the middle of the intersection for an ambulance or turn right on red, they are not cited, Thiers said.

Radzilowski said he believes the cameras are fair and the owner of the vehicle should be held responsible.

“It’s the same thing as running through a toll booth. They take a picture of your license plate to send you a citation,” he said.

There are two cameras set up at the intersection of First Street and Manatee Avenue.

The city has not been able to set up cameras in every direction at an intersection because they rely on private property owners to allow the cameras to be installed.

Another camera is at Ninth Street East and Seventh Avenue East to catch violators heading eastbound.

The city has plans for a total of 10 cameras. The other six remaining spots have not been selected yet, Thiers said.

Intersections are selected by examining factors such as the number of crashes, red light violations, school zones and pedestrian use, he said.

Beth Burger, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.

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